This whole exercising-competitively-again thing is getting pretty serious for 1998 Beverly High grad and Boston College alum Nathan Buttrick. He quit running for a while after leaving BC in 2002, finishing his final year as captain of the cross-country team.
But iIn 2007, yearning for that feeling of success in a lost-but-not-forgotten outlet, Buttrick jumped back into the virtual boxing ring of competitive running without a cornerman, hand wraps, or even a water bottle.
His first run was just a few miles.
Then he tried a triathlon. He could bike for an hour and a half.
It was all supposed to be fun.
On Saturday, however, he’ll be on the Kona Coast in Hawaii for the 34th annual Ironman World Championship, where he’ll compete against some of the best athletes in the world, 45-mile per hour crosswinds, high-90s temperatures, and a scorching sun as he swims 2.4 miles, bikes 112 more, and finishes with a 26.2-mile run. In its entirety, a nine-hour haul. But the 32-year-old Buttrick is racing for something far more than glee.
"With all the sacrifices I make," he says, pointing to his full-time job as a property manager in Boston, his wife, Mahima, and their two children, 2-year-old Shay, and 1-year-old Mila, “if I have a bad race, I'm pretty bummed. I'm questioning what I'm even doing out there. But if I have a good race, seeing all of that pay off — it's the greatest thing."
When Buttrick began competing again in 2007, his first few triathlons, which were much shorter than anything he's been doing lately (he remembers his first was a 0.25-mile swim, 10-mile bike ride, and a 5,000-meter run), were comparable to playing a pick-up basketball game.
After a few tries, when he realized he was much better than he thought he'd be, Buttrick added a coach in former Gloucester High competitor Janda Ricci-Munn. That’s when it all started getting serious.
“Janda has taken me from a weekend warrior to someplace I never thought I'd make it,” said Buttrick, who has also benefited from his body maturing into prime racing form. Many male runners believe they peak somewhere in their early 30s.
But the training program Buttrick now endures is nothing short of a part-time job. He estimates he trains about 25 hours a week, between improving his technique in the pool — which he only started doing a few years ago — to biking the 130-mile trek down back roads from his home in North Conway, N.H., to his home in Boston, about a 5½-hour trip. His wife drives the kids simultaneously, though her trip takes just about 2½ hours.
“Some workouts are fun,” he said. “Sometimes I enjoy it. But a lot of times it’s just work. Obviously I like it or I wouldn't be doing it. But I’d rather be spending time with my family or hanging out with my friends — which I rarely do anymore.
“That’s all I do is work, spend time with family, and train. Mentally it takes a lot of you. It’s tough to get out there and put yourself through a 120-mile bike ride. You’re thinking of everything else you can be doing.”
But the feeling he got after finishing in first place of his age division, men’s 30-34, at the EagleMan Triathlon in Maryland this June made it all worth it. His time of 4:17:45 was far from his best mark at a half-Ironman competition (his best of 4:02:29 came at PumpkinMan in Maine last month), but the win guaranteed him a spot in Kona, where the world championship prize purse of $650,000 is waiting, with the winners typically taking in six figures on their own.
And the sponsorships that will come afterward — well, this is as close as it gets to being a triathlon celebrity.
Buttrick, who expects to be one of the top amateurs in the competition, hopes to finish the race in less than nine hours, completing the swim in an hour, the biking in just less than five and the marathon in about three hours.
The conditions could be brutal. And he knows what’s on the line, with a chance at turning his hobby into an eventual profession and way of life.
“By the end of a race, it's a matter of who is willing to suffer more,” he said.
“That’s what it is. At the higher level everyone is very fit; everyone is really fast. But who can handle the suffering will determine the results.”